Obama Thanks Troops in Afghanistan for Service at Pivotal Time
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2014 President Barack Obama told troops at Bagram Airfield today that he was there to say thank you from more than 300 million Americans.
President Barack Obama visits troops on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 26, 2014. Obama thanked the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines for their service. After his speech, he shook hands with each and every member present. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The president made an unannounced trip to Bagram today to meet with U.S. leaders and troops.
In a speech to more than 3,000 service members gathered in a hangar at the air field, Obama said that after almost 13 years of war, the effort is at a pivotal moment.
Last year Afghan forces took the security lead, and today U.S. and partner forces serve in support, he said.
“For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan,” Obama said to applause. “By the end of this year, the transition will be complete and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over. America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”
The president said this progress was a result of the efforts of more than half a million Americans who have served in Afghanistan.
Americans came to Afghanistan to clean out the al-Qaida hornet’s nest and ensure the country could not be used to launch further attacks, he said.
“We have decimated the al-Qaida leadership in the tribal regions, and our troops here at Bagram played a central role in supporting our counterterrorism operations -- including the one that delivered justice to Osama bin Laden,” Obama said. “So, along with our intelligence personnel, you’ve helped prevent attacks and save American lives back home. Al-Qaida is on its heels in this part of the world, and that’s because of you.”
American service members reversed the Taliban’s momentum and allowed Afghans to reclaim their communities, the president said.
Obama pointed to the evidence of progress in the country, including girls going to school, dramatic improvement in public health and increases in life expectancy and literacy. “That’s your legacy. That’s what you did,” he told the troops. “Even with all the challenges, more Afghans have hope for their future.”
American, NATO and partner nation service members trained Afghan security forces to protect their own people, the president said. “We know they’ve still got a long way to go, but for nearly a year, Afghans have been in the lead, and they’re making enormous sacrifices,” he said.
The Afghan people are growing more confident about their future, Obama said. During the April election, they defied the Taliban and voted, he noted. “That’s a tribute to the courage and determination of the people of Afghanistan,” the president said. “But it is also a tribute to you and the sacrifices of so many Americans and our coalition partners -- everything that you’ve done over the years.”
The progress has come at a heavy price. More than 2,200 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, he said. “We will honor every single one of them -- not just tomorrow, but forever,” Obama said.
The combat mission ends at the end of the year, but Americans remain committed to Afghanistan, the president said.
The United States will help train and advice Afghan forces and will continue the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaida, he said.
“Once Afghanistan has sworn in its new president, I’m hopeful we’ll sign a bilateral security agreement that lets us move forward,” Obama said.
Once the agreement is signed, he said, the nation can plan for a limited military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. “Because after all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win,” the president told the troops. “And we’re going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country.”
The combat mission will end, but not the work -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere. “The al-Qaida leadership may be on the ropes, but in other regions of the world al-Qaida affiliates are evolving and pose a serious threat,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to stay strong and we’re going to have to stay vigilant.
“Fortunately, we’ve got the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in human history,” he continued. “And as commander-in chief, I’m going to keep it that way.”
The president promised to keep up efforts to provide for military families, wounded warriors and veterans.
Obama related a story of one of the artifacts in the newly opened 9-11 Museum in New York -- an American flag found in the rubble of the Twin Towers.
“It’s dusty. And it’s torn, and you can see the burn marks from the fires,” he said. “That flag has been through a lot. But the thing you notice is its broad stripes and bright stars still shine. Its red, white and blue still inspire. After all it’s been through, after all America has been through, our flag is still there.”
It is still there because the 9-11 generation stepped forward, Obama said. “Our flag is still there because you’ve served with honor in dusty villages and city streets, and in rugged bases and remote outposts, in Helmand and Kandahar, and Khost and Kunar and Paktika and Nuristan,” the president said. “Our flag is still there because through this long war you never wavered in your belief that people deserve to live free from fear -- over here and back home.”